#2 in the list of 642 Things To Write About asks, succinctly but terrifyingly, “What’s the worst Thanksgiving meal you’ve ever had?”
Easy. Too easy. Back in 1993, when I was a skinny young man in my early twenties with no idea how to live, I decided that the best way to assert my independence was to move to Calgary and start looking for terrible minimum wage jobs. Looking back, I have trouble believing that I could work up the energy and initiative to do such a thing. It seems out of character for forty one year old me to pick up and move to another city with nothing but a sleeping bag (really!) and a thousand dollars to keep me from starving. But forty one year old me probably can’t survive on a diet of Drum cigarettes and mini doughnuts.
The first job I landed, through friends of friends, was in a watch repair shop in the downtown. Mostly my duties consisted of popping batteries out of watches and telling disgruntled customers that Timexes couldn’t be repaired. It was a busy job; back in 1993, people still kept the time attached to their wrists. Cellphones came in kits, and they had the look of military gear. I made six dollars an hour and that was enough to keep me in a bachelor suite in a building that seemed to be imploding in super slow-motion (as it turned out, it was one of those apartments where everyone had lived; friend after friend would walk through the door and stop short, realizing that they or someone they knew had once thrown a party there).
Before I found myself an apartment, though, I stayed with my boss. He had a tidy two-bedroom apartment, a fiancee named Rachel from a village somewhere in rural Manitoba, and a kind heart. He also had weekly prayer meetings, where he and his Christian cronies would get together and work out the mysteries of scripture over coffee. Often they concluded that Jesus was pretty great. The best moments arose when tried to out-Holy Spirit each other, and their praise would grow more effusive and ornate until the rhetorical charge overloaded their circuits, and then they’d link hands and pray. Once I saw them try to heal a persistent headache through prayer. They sheltered a woman within a circle in the living room and implored Jesus to put a “hedge of protection” around her. Then they did that humming thing, which I’m not certain they were aware of doing.
Anyway, that’s where I had the worst Thanksgiving meal of my life.
It was also the most crowded Thanksgiving I’d ever experienced. The fiancée’s grandmother and several other ancients were disinterred and transported to the city, where oxygen tanks and metal crutches seemed to keep everyone alive long enough to scowl their way through the festive evening. The dining room table started filling up with dish after dish as people brought over casserole dishes and glass platters. It was my first real experience with what people call “home-cooked farm food.”
Mostly I remember the Jell-o molds, pieces of cheap candied fruit suspended inside electric green scallops. I remember the Miracle Whip topping flecked with sugary orange shards. Specifically, I remember at least a half-dozen of those fuckers jiggling away on the extended table top. And with every new group of wizened partiers that rolled and hobbled through the door, another strange dessert or cream-drenched salad was handed over and plunked down.
The centrepiece of the meal was the turkey, a hormonal outlier of a bird that may, in the spirit of loaves and fishes, have been generating extra mass to accommodate the party. Everyone remarked, and remarked constantly, on how moist the bird was. For all I know, it may have been the most butter-permeated bird since unshod feet slapped around the shores of Galilee. I just remember mold after mold bending the overhead light, and those pitiful bits of preserved fruit trapped within.